The Influence of a Child

When’s the last time a child influenced you in a meaningful way?

I’m not talking about the “Adorable!”, “Grandma’s gotta have a picture of that!”, cutesy kind of way.  I’m talking about a child, simply by being who they are, reaching deep down into the core of your being and stirring something profound inside of you, a movement powerful enough to fuel passion that changes the way you think, act, or feel.

I remember a time when Hannah, my ten-year-old, bounded down the basement stairs and found me with slumped shoulders and downcast countenance, staring at my beloved craft corner.  The once-inviting studio bore what visually appeared like the aftermath of a grenade attack, its basic structure still in tact but the remaining clutter tossed violently askew.

Disheveled stacks laid atop the “Creation Station”, a lovely table, intended for the arts of painting and sewing, it now served for sorting and filing.  Boxes of mementos and crafts crammed together beneath it, and bits of this and that – markers, paper scraps, fabric squares, glue sticks, etc. – lay scattered about every remaining surface area.

“What’s wrong, Mom?”

In a rare moment of discouragement, I blurted out, “I feel so disorganized.”

Hannah briefly surveyed the situation and then returned her gaze to me, smiling.  “But, Mommy, that doesn’t mean you are disorganized.  Look at the rest of the basement!”

My mouth fell open.  I obeyed her kind directive and surveyed the oversized plastic containers  of toys and activities.  My eyes took in the household supply racks, freshly sanitized foam tiles, and the multi-bin organizer of homeschool supplies and activities.  Even the play kitchen held a brimming plastic food basket, carefully placed appliances, and neatly stacked plates and cups.

I grinned as I wrapped my arm around her.  “Thanks, Sweetheart.  I needed that.”

Her gracious encouragement inspired me in many ways.  It reset my perspective.  It fueled my determination to get the job done.  It also reminded me of the importance of separating feelings from truth and not allowing those misconceptions to shape my identity.

Just because I felt disorganized didn’t mean it was true.

In that moment, I realized that Hannah had spoken to me the very words she longed to hear when her room is messy, revealing how much she values encouragement when she’s feeling disorganized.  Not a lecture, not bossy directives birthed from parental frustration.

The entire interaction grew me as a parent, and I had my sweet daughter to thank for it.  Thank you, Hannah, for being who you are and for reminding me what’s true, what’s important, and how to best encourage you during the challenges you encounter.

Thank you for making a positive impact on me, both as a person and a parent.

Thank you for being a wonderful leader.

What if we as adults realized and helped develop the great potential within every child to lead and influence others in powerful ways – not only when they grow up, but also – today?

I had the privilege of attending TEDx Morristown yesterday and hearing my friend, Dr. Yvonne Bleam, give a wonderful presentation (which will be online in roughly six weeks) about encouraging leadership at an early age.

The influence of a child can prove powerful when coupled with the careful cultivation of loving adults attuned to the value every person can give.  Dr. Bleam has written an outstanding book titled A-Z of Being the Best Leader You Can Be:  Leading Through the Alphabet, which gives parents and teachers an effective tool that encourages children to pursue leadership in everyday settings and circumstances.

Each chapter focuses on a different character quality and tells a story that every kid can relate to, even the quiet and shy, the unlikely leader.  For example, Quinn, the quiet listener, leads by listening to the teacher while other kids are talking and hearing the assignment that’s due the following day.

Whether used at home, school, or church, A-Z of Being the Best Leader You Can Be gives a message of hope and well explains how kids can influence others – even adults – by simply making good choices.  Questions and activities at the end of each chapter drive each character trait home and provide fodder for good conversation, enabling kids to think through their responses to particular situations.

Dr. Bleam is the perfect one to write this book because she leads by example.  I’ll never forget one particular time when she and her husband, Brian,  reached out to my family.  We were in the thick of a traumatic season of life, constantly gasping for air and desperate for reprieve.  When Yvonne caught wind of it, she invited us over for dinner.  The entire Bleam Family blessed us that night, listened to us, fed us, encouraged us to press on through some of our darkest moments.

What especially impressed me that night was the way the Bleam children, Hunter and Brooke reached out to my little Hannah (only about four years old at the time).  Because most of her remembered life experience centered around her brother’s nearly fatal birth, visits to the hospital, and his home health needs, Hannah didn’t know how to be, how to act, or what all of this over for dinner “thing” was even all about.

Long before the book was birthed, Brian and Yvonne had done a great job encouraging leadership traits with their own kids, and it was evident by the way both Hunter and Brooke did an amazing job of entertaining Hannah that night.  They exhibited grace and compassion through the gentle way they spoke to her, played with her, and did their best to make her comfortable in their home.  Their kindness evidenced a maturity beyond their years.

Little moves me more than kindness given to my suffering child.

Thank you, Hunter and Brooke, for leading through your thoughtful words and actions that showed compassion to my hurting little girl.  You may not have known until today how much that evening meant to us.

To me, an adult.

Thank you, Brian and Yvonne, for being faithful friends through the storms of life and for raising your children in a way that brings tremendous blessing to others.

Thank you, Yvonne, for creating a practical resource that ignites and inspires the hearts of young leaders to make choices that influence others in a positive way.  Thank you for making it easy and enjoyable, meaningful and lasting.  Thank you for investing in the future of our homes, our community, our world.

Thank you for the sacrifice you and your family have made in order to lead us all to sow into the lives of others.

I look forward to using A-Z of Being the Best Leader You Can Be: Leading Through the Alphabet with my kids.  Hannah got a jumpstart – she’s halfway through the book already.

I caught John on the sofa with it this morning, pen in hand.  Methinks I need another copy!

The Best Lover

Of all the people (not God – I’m talking human beings) in your world, who loves you best?

My answer is easy.

You may be shocked that it’s not my husband.  It’s neither my kids nor my parents.

It’s my older sister, Krissie.

Those of you who know her are smiling now, for you, too, have been blessed by the beauty that she is.  Before she was born, God graced her with a most amazing spirit, one she would need to conquer the many mental and physical challenges thrust upon her the minute she left our mother’s womb.

Never to marry, never to give birth, and never to manage a home of her own, Krissie faces each day hungry.  All day.  Every day.  All night long.  It never goes away.

When I stop and consider this, even as I type, my eyes well with tears.  The sister in me wants to take it from her, and if need be, for her.  I detest this thorn in her side, this tool God has used to make her into such a wonderful human being.  Prader-Wili Syndrome is such a bitter pill to swallow, on top of losing an arm in an accident, yet sweet Krissie presses on one day at a time, looking forward to the next time she gets to see people.

People.  She loves them.  Every single one.

She feeds off her relationships.  They motivate her like nothing else, even food.  Without prejudice or pretense, she greets everyone around her affectionately, whether they be family or friend, waitress or cashier, doctor or janitor.

And it’s not just hello with her – she wants names.

She may be mentally challenged and not understand how four quarters equal a dollar, but her ability to remember names, addresses, phone numbers, pets’ names, birthdays, etc. astounds me.  I’ve seen somber retailers and downcast shoppers break into smiles when she calls their name from across South Mall (where she walks with my parents daily) and asks how Rosebud and Rex are doing.

You would think she’s the Mayor.

Not to say that she is never hurt, but she gets over it quickly, eager to forgive and move on to the next hug, the next smile, the next friend she can love.

One of the things I missed most when she lost her arm was the way she would greet people.  Whenever someone she knew would enter her field of vision, she would gasp, loudly call their name, clasp her hands together, and wiggle her fingers all around.  Then, oblivious to most social norms, she would rush to their side, continuing to call their name with a wide smile, outstretched arms, and booming voice.

Today, the effect is the same, even without all ten fingers.  Through the genuine, innocent, and wholehearted way that she loves, Krissie makes people feel important, valued, and treasured.  Having grown up in the same house, I didn’t realize until I no longer lived with her how rare and precious her gift truly is.  She has mastered something remarkable, something that many successful and intelligent people find themselves lacking the ability to muster let alone reciprocate.

Everyone loves her.

She was my secretary for about 18 months prior to Hannah’s birth.  Twice a week, she would come to my home office and help me maintain my writing files for a couple of hours at a time.  It was great.  I loved having her, sharing that time together, enjoying our green pepper breaks and watching her use a pink highlighter to put big “X”s on the used side of my manuscripts.

Even though I now live roughly 90 minutes away, I miss being able to have her over for a banana pancake breakfast (yes, the kids would typically through a few chocolate chips into the mix) and a game of Dutch Blitz (she beats me).  I miss scooping her up for an afternoon  homeschool adventure or a spontaneous seafood suppertime.  I miss my secretary.

I miss attending church with her, sitting beside her, giggling with her.  I miss nudging her when she doses off in the middle of the sermon.  I miss watching her clap her hands.  Always offbeat, typically swaying a little from side-to-side, she would radiantly worship faithfully every Sunday, belting out the songs slightly off-key and clapping.

We’ve adjusted to a new norm, visiting back-and-forth when we can.  The kids love going to visit Aunt KiKi and having her come visit us.  As she ages, she faces more challenges, as do we all.  I continue to pray for her, as well as my parents as they care for her.  Many days are not easy, truth be told, but one thing remains.

Her unbridled, ardent, beautiful love.

I love you, my sweet Krissie.  I look up to you, Big Sister, more than you know.  You have set the bar high, far beyond anything I could ever achieve.  You bear your cross well, so well that I sometimes forget you have it.

I look forward to spending eternity with you, my amazing sister, the best lover of all.

 

New Digs

Sorry for the posting delay.  After many months of inspections and papers, fees and transactions, assessing and phonically, we bought our house today!  And the best part is that we haven’t had to pack a single box because we’ve been living here for the past 21 months.

Sweet.

Truth be told, it’s not the house we initially would have picked to purchase upon our arrival to a foreign land, but God knew well and positioned us perfectly in the home He made available just for us in January 2015.

Looking back, it was amazing.  We’d had little time to find a place when Christian was offered his position in the Bronx, so we’d hopped online, trying to search out as many wonderful options as possible.

It came down to only two.  We quickly realized how hot the rental market was in our targeted demographic and that we should simply high-tail it out to NJ as soon as we could make an appointment with the realtors.

We snagged one definite and one maybe, so we threw the kids in the car and headed to River Edge.  Christian had eyed the first property, I the second.

We never saw the inside of “my” property, the one with the “maybe” realtor.  When we got the call that he wouldn’t make it, I was disappointed.  I liked this property much more because it had a swing set for the kids, a big yard, bigger rooms, newer kitchen, etc.  Everything about it seemed better.

On the Internet.

We did a drive-by while we waited for the other realtor and never looked back.  Feeling choice-less and vulnerable, we finally headed to our appointment.

The realtor was lovely.  Genuine, down-to-earth, and now a neighbor one street over.  The house was quaint, the neighborhood pleasant.  Christian sensed almost immediately that this was THE house, but it took me a little longer to warm up to the idea.

The fit is now undeniable.  Like a glove.

At first, it didn’t seem to make sense.  We’d traded one-third of an acre for a postage stamp, a two-story colonial for a modest brick cottage, and an organic garden complete with homemade compost for mere property borders of evergreen triangles and squares.

But today, looking back, I’m thankful.  God used this wonderful little house to help heal us.  When we rushed into our house after closing this afternoon, I experienced that same rush-around-the-house-and-kiss-everything feeling George Bailey had in It’s a Wonderful Life, appreciating anew the precious five feet of kitchen counter space and Abby’s walk-through hallway bedroom, the tiny living room and the cheap wall-mounted “hotel” lights on both sides of the master bed that swing in-and-out overhead.

Every detail has served us perfectly, smushing us all together, forcing us to constantly interact and love each other in new ways, further cementing our hearts together.  Away from the visual triggers, away from the constant reminders, away from the past we didn’t deny but couldn’t seem to escape.

Moving was a blessing.  We miss family and friends, but our hearts needed to heal.  Perhaps one day God will send us back to the Lehigh Valley, but for now, we plan to continue blooming where He’s planted us, enjoying our “new” home – and each other.

Many blessings upon each of your homes both today – and beyond.

 

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